Disclaimer: I do not own the Harry Potter universe.
Beta: Ethiliam – thanks, as always, for the numerous remarks.
Harry stared at Zacharias, the rude boy who had just identified himself, in complete bewilderment. Perhaps Hermione had lied about the purpose of this meeting, since these students didn't seem willing to find a solution to their inadequate Defence-lessons problem. He banished the silly thought from his mind after spotting the withering glare Hermione aimed at Zacharias. She inhaled deeply – a sure sign she was about to lay into the boy's idiotic questions – so Harry put a hand on her knee, halting her rebuke and making her eyes flicker towards him. Harry inconspicuously shook his head. Since she refrained from answering the loud-mouthed boy, his intervention had been successful.
The sound in the Hog's Head picked up exponentially, drowning out the other occupants.
Harry took a swig from his Butterbeer, swirling the cool liquid in his mouth before swallowing. Several near-death experiences had taught him to enjoy the simplest of things, and having this vanilla-flavoured drink was one of them.
The pub became eerily silent after Zacharias slammed his empty bottle on the table.
"Well?" Zacharias demanded.
Harry lazily put his bottle on the table, taking great care as to not make a sound. The childish theatrics amused him. "Well, what?"
A sneer became visible, making Harry wonder if Malfoy had been giving lessons. "What happened at the end of the third task?"
"Are you a first year?"
"Do I look like a first year?"
Harry looked away from the arrogant boy since he wanted a clear answer instead of more questions. As such, he turned towards Hermione. "He doesn't look like a first year. I thought students were obligated to attend the tasks, so shouldn't he know what happened?"
Hermione swallowed when everyone's attention turned to herself again. She pursed her lips to avoid a twitch from showing after she noticed Zacharias fuming at the treatment he was receiving from Harry.
"What he means," Michael Corner said, "is after you and Cedric disappeared from the maze."
"On three, right?"
"Kill the spare."
Harry pushed the memories away, especially the all too familiar green light that had claimed another life. "Really?" he whispered. He felt Hermione put her own hand on his, which – to his surprise – was still on her knee.
"Yes, really," Zacharias spat out.
Harry looked around the pub. Everyone's attention was on him, including those that didn't attend Hogwarts. "Raise your hand if you're here for an explanation about Cedric's death."
Several hands shot up when Harry pronounced the Hufflepuff's name and before he finished the sentence. Others, encouraged by their peers, followed slowly but steadily. Hermione sighed softly at the Gryffindor chasers before closing her eyes when spotting Neville's hand. Contrary to Hermione's reaction, Harry didn't even twitch. She tapped her thumb against his hand to receive his attention. Harry inclined his head at her, not needing to be told that she had a load of questions that he'd better answer.
"Looks like the majority wants to know," Zacharias said, voice oozing with superiority.
Harry faced the entire group, most of them carrying jubilant expressions. "Looks like the majority can piss off."
For the second time since entering the shady pub, the noise level blew out of proportion when everyone started hurling questions and insults at Harry. Harry observed the cacophony with disinterest. These people had allowed a fool to speak for them and had been stupid enough to support said fool. Their fate was sealed since Harry had no interest in teaching people that could be distracted this easily. As for their Defence O.W.L. ... well, that's what official school lessons were for.
Harry stood up, silencing everyone. "This meeting was about finding common ground in Umbridge's failure to teach, and about finding a way to undo the damage. Instead, you saw a chance to corner me with enough people to force me to talk." Harry compared facing this bunch with facing Voldemort. A snort escaped him. "You disgust me."
"We have a right to know," Ginny said.
Shaking his head, Harry looked disappointed at her. "Really, you think you're entitled to the details?"
Ginny nodded. Several others copied her action.
"Perhaps I should," Harry said while staring intently at Ginny, making her squirm in her seat. "I guess I should start at the beginning; no, not when Voldemort murdered my parents. When I learned his real name: second year. Why, Ginny, I could tell that story so vividly that it would seem as if you were there yourself."
Ginny's freckles appeared to jump from her face due to her pale complexion.
"You –" Ron tried to speak up, but he found himself silenced by the twins.
"But, I won't," Harry said before the twins could turn on him. "Despite what you may think, it's not your business. It's mine and whomever I decide to trust, which certainly won't be any of you." Harry started making his way outside the silent pub. "Thank you for dragging all those memories up again. Lovely, really. Goodbye."
"Harry – wait – wait up!"
Harry had made it halfway to the castle at his leisurely pace before he heard Hermione's voice. "Hmm?"
She stopped next to him, breathing heavily. "I'm so – sorry – about –"
"It's not your fault," Harry interrupted her. "Besides, I noticed your eyes attempting to vaporise Zacharias. I was rooting for them. Think such a spell exists?" Since she was still recovering from catching up with him, he couldn't figure out whether this was her I-don't-know-but-will-find-out or don't-be-an-idiot expression. "Besides ... I expected that."
"You – what?"
"I've had too much experience with the student population's scorn, Hermione. Second year and fourth year come to mind. I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but there was almost no chance of them not questioning me." He frowned at her. "Do you think that's why people give second chances but not third chances; if they make the mistake twice then they'll keep repeating it over-and-over again so it's not worth the trouble?"
"Probably," she answered before she could stop herself. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because it was an excellent idea and I would've enjoyed annoying Umbridge behind her back. But ... I couldn't let them walk over me, not again, not even to piss off Umbridge." Harry looked around. "Where's Ron?"
Hermione closed her coat when a harsh wind hit them, giving her time to form a response. "After you left, your two questioners stormed out too. The others started arguing about still needing a decent teacher. Someone pointed out Ron and I knew everything you knew, so ... I left, Ron didn't. Last I saw, the twins were keeping him silent about the details."
"They'll be in for a rough awakening," Harry said, startling Hermione. "It's like you said before, people don't know what it's like to face him; not even you or Ron. Some things – some things I really don't like to talk about."
The sound of chatter became louder, signalling that other students were making their way towards the castle. Hermione wasn't willing to postpone their discussion, so she grabbed Harry's hand before tugging him along to keep their head start. She squeezed his hand gently.
"So," Harry said, fighting a frown when she didn't attack him with questions, "Ron, huh? I guess levitating a club, playing chess, getting mauled by a dog, and playing drown-victim is sufficient expertise for the idiots back there."
Hermione looked confused. "You're not upset?"
"I forgave him after the first task," Harry said, "only to find out moments later that he knew about those dragons and didn't tell me about them outright. If Hagrid hadn't invited me along that night, or if I'd skipped that night in favour of preparing for the task, who knows what might've happened."
"So Ron was on his second chance?"
"No," Harry said adamantly, shaking his head. "I could've died in the first task if I'd gone in unprepared. Handing out a second chance to someone who could have gotten me killed because they were jealous sounds like a really bad idea."
Hermione frowned at him. "But, why didn't you stop being friends with him, then?"
"You and Skeeter." His lips twitched when her mouth dropped half-open. "Three guesses what Ron would have done if I'd stopped being friends with him after his almost-but-not-quite ridiculous apology?" Not waiting for an answer, he continued, "He'd talk to anyone, including a specific vindictive hag. With the other tasks hovering over me, I figured it wasn't worth the trouble. I had to wait until he dug his own grave again."
"What –" She swallowed and looked away. "What about me?"
"Hmm?" Harry asked, not getting her point.
"Would you care as little if we stopped being friends?"
Harry stopped walking, forcing Hermione to stand still too. "If you weren't here then neither would I," he said, shocking her. "Hogwarts isn't the only place to study magic, but it certainly seems the most dangerous."
Harry shook his head at her before restarting their walk towards the castle. "Me figuring things out before you ... this is setting a really bad precedent, Hermione."
She growled at him. "I've been busy keeping up with classes, ensuring you kept up with classes, bailing Ron out each time he forgot to finish his homework, and figuring out how to keep you alive through various means of research. The latter has been a full-time job for the past years and you don't seem to have any intention on giving me some leave anytime soon!" She poked him in the chest with a finger. "I expect back pay!"
"Ow – Hey!" He smiled at her reaction before the stress on one of her statements hit him. "You're really annoyed at Ron, aren't you?"
"He treats me like his personal secretary," she snapped.
"You should've told me sooner."
Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "Pot meet kettle. Now, stop diverting my attention and start explaining."
"The first two years at this school made clear it wasn't safe at all – don't interrupt – and you know it. You nearly got smashed by a troll and killed by a Basilisk. The next years, though ... they clarified how horrible things truly are." Seeing he had her full attention, he continued, "At the end of our third year, before we did our spin of time, Snape interrupted our confrontation with Sirius. Snape gloated while he had the upper hand, admitting he went to Remus's chambers with a gobletful of Wolfsbane Potion when he spotted the Marauders Map where he saw Remus disappearing down the secret passageway." Harry waited a moment before asking, "Why?"
Hermione frowned. "Why what?"
"Snape knew Remus was a werewolf, so why would he go after Remus and why would he forget to bring the Wolfsbane Potion along?"
"He must've seen more than –" Hermione trailed off. She paled.
"If Snape had seen Sirius on the Map, then he would have contacted the Ministry or the Dementors to get Sirius Kissed, so we can rule that out. Which means he must have seen us."
"He left the Wolfsbane Potion on purpose, didn't he?" she whispered. "He had no reason to take your Invisibility Cloak to hide underneath it, unless he wanted to see us attacked by a Werewolf."
"I doubt that," Harry said, surprising her. "He's more likely to want me dead than you."
"And I highly doubt he'd have come to my rescue," Hermione said, fury visible. "He must've thought he struck gold when he found Sirius there." She pursed her lips. "I can't believe I'm saying this ... good job on blasting him with an overpowered Disarming Spell."
Harry grinned. "Thank you. If you ever need me to attack another –"
"Don't push your luck," Hermione said. After digesting the implications of that revelation, she frowned at their surroundings. "Why are we walking around the lake?"
"Because otherwise we'd be inside the castle and I'm not done yet," Harry said.
"Should I brace myself?"
"Hermione," Harry said with fake-shock, "how could anything trump the plot of a teacher trying to set me up to die? ... Oh, wait ... if all teachers and officials agree to force me to participate in a deadly Tournament, does that count?"
"But I thought the Goblet –"
"Impossible," Harry interrupted her. "There's no chance that the Goblet could have forced anything. Can you imagine a young student's name being picked, after which their parents refuse to allow their child to participate? Then again, it wasn't any student; it was me, the Boy-Who-Lived. Bagman's jubilant expression told me all I needed to know."
"Then why didn't they remove you from the Tournament?" Hermione asked indignantly.
"Bait. Someone had put my name in and they wanted to know who'd done it. Dumbledore ordered Moody – yeah, I know – to investigate and then ... nothing. We know why Moody didn't do anything, but Dumbledore forced me to participate for the sole purpose of finding the perpetrator only to fumble the investigation? I don't buy it."
"I'm an idiot," Hermione whispered, freezing in her tracks.
"Whoa; no, you're not," Harry said immediately. "If you're an idiot then I don't want to consider what I am."
She didn't appear to have heard him. Instead, one of her hands moved in front of her open mouth. "Oh, Merlin."
"Hermione?" he asked, worried at her sudden horrified reaction.
Her head turned until she looked him in the eyes. "Harry, after the Tournament was announced the Ravenclaws dug up everything they could get their hands on. Afterwards, they laughed the entire thing away. How can glory be eternal when everyone forgot about the Tournament? Why risk your life for a measly thousand Galleons?" She lowered her voice to a whisper, "I'm so sorry."
"They needed your reputation: a baby that became world-famous. They diverted all negative attention."
Harry's shoulders slumped, never having considered that angle. "Each year I assume it'll be better than before and each year I'm proven wrong. A Ministry stooge enters the castle and tortures rebellious students. There is no doubt in my mind that every shred of proof would vanish the second someone tries to investigate her." He held up his hand, showing the faint scar. "Which is why I don't bother."
Hermione blushed as her own hand was still in his. Before Harry could question that, she set course to the school. Her eyes started radiating with an as-of-yet unknown glint.
"Where are you taking me?" Harry asked, slightly amused at the sudden change.
Harry tugged his hand back slightly. "We're not telling –"
"I respect her." She kept up her pace as they entered the open castle doors. "I want to – no, I need to find out what she'll do when she finds out about your detentions with Umbridge. Please?"
"Fine," Harry relented. "But, don't get your hopes up. This is the same woman who told me to get a grip on myself, to be careful, to use common sense, to tread carefully around Umbridge, to keep my head down, and to keep my temper under control." He grimaced. "Not a single word about me being goaded into the mess, or the unacceptable theoretical-only in a wand-based subject."
Hermione almost ended up with a foot in the trick step on the stairs. She stared at Harry as if she'd never seen him. "Since when do you bother to remember every detail from a mere conversation?" she asked incredulously.
"When someone that's supposed to help you and protect you tells you to go to hell in sweet-sugared words, I burn it into my brain so I never give that person my trust again."
"Well ... it's good that you're listening to her," she said, lips twitching when Harry looked shocked. "The Hog's Head. I don't think I've ever seen you so relaxed when people have a go at you."
Harry grinned. "I doubt my uncaring nature was what McGonagall had in mind."
"Of course not, but it works all the same."
The remaining time was passed in silence as they walked towards McGonagall's office. Hermione was gathering her thoughts, forcibly concentrating on the last topic of their discussion instead of straying into the previous years. As they halted in front of McGonagall's chambers, Hermione took a deep breath before knocking on the door.
"Come in." McGonagall sat behind her desk, grading papers. She focussed on them. "Miss Granger, Mr Potter, what brings you to my office?"
"Professor," Hermione said. Unwilling to draw this out, she held Harry's hand up, revealing the scar. "Professor Umbridge is forcing Harry to write lines in his own blood during detention."
McGonagall pursed her lips while she stared at the lines carved into the back of Harry's hand. Eventually, she lowered her eyes. "I already informed Mr Potter not to antagonise her further. The matter is out of my hands."
Hermione staggered back. The downcast look from McGonagall made clear something else was going on ... but Hermione didn't care. She unpinned her prefect's badge and stared at the golden P in her hands. "I wondered why you didn't get the badge, Harry. Now – now I don't want to know the answer anymore."
"Miss Granger, I –"
Hermione lowered the badge on McGonagall's desk. "I resign," Hermione said, cutting through McGonagall's response. Hermione refused to look at the woman. "I'd inform you of my reasons, but I'd rather not be assigned detentions for speaking the truth."
Harry's eyes almost popped out, especially at the shocked McGonagall. While Hermione was walking out of the office, he decided to follow in Hermione's dainty footsteps. "I resign too," he said, "from the Quidditch team, that is. I'd inform you of my reasons, but – well – I don't see the point."
When Harry rejoined Hermione, who had waited directly outside of the door, he already felt better than before. They walked towards the Gryffindor common room.
"You didn't have to –" Hermione started.
"Actually, I did. Everyone on the team already blamed me for getting detentions and after the Hog's Head – well, I doubt the atmosphere will improve. Besides ... I'm already severely behind on schoolwork."
"I'll help you catch up," Hermione said. "Vanishing spells first?"
"Thanks, and yes," Harry said, smiling at her. He contemplated the past hour. "I'll tell you everything."
She frowned at him.
"What it's like to face him," he clarified. "Afterwards, I'm sure we – well, to be honest, you – can research spells to practice. Only you. No fancy group."
Hermione's radiant smile lifted Harry's spirits and made him feel as if he'd achieved something noteworthy today.
An inconsequential amount of nondescript days passed by. Harry was rounding up his detentions and reigning in his temper, no longer allowing the vindictive woman the delight in punishing him while he – returning the favour – took great pleasure in ignoring her. Hermione was no longer patrolling the corridors and was now using her free time to research in the library. The topic of her research had been labelled as 'fragmented ideas; tell you later'.
Educational Decree number Twenty-four, which forbade all meetings of three or more students, hadn't impacted the two of them directly. Hermione had happily informed the librarian that she'd rather not impeach on that Decree by accident, which resulted in the now smaller tables with only two chairs. Hermione loved the new layout since everyone now left her alone at her small table.
Harry sat in the empty common room, watching the dot labelled Hermione Granger gliding towards his own. The portrait opened and Hermione, taking off the Cloak, became visible. She folded it while walking towards him.
"Finished," she said.
He shook his head. "Hermione Granger sneaking around the castle after curfew. Whatever happened to the dutiful prefect?"
"Slain by the incompetence of authority."
She sat down next to him. They stared at each other, fidgeting a bit since they were still getting used to the new dynamic of their friendship. As such, they didn't see the flames of the fireplace coming to life.
"So," Hermione said, "I think I've figured out a fool proof plan."
"Great!" a voice said from the fireplace, "Let's hear it!"
Hermione jumped up, grabbing Harry's hand in a death grip. She let out a sigh of relief when she saw Sirius's head in the fireplace. "Don't do that!"
"Good timing," she said while shooting Harry a weak smile after softening her grip. "Just the person I needed."
"Really?" both Harry and Sirius asked, making the latter turn towards Harry, adding, "Hey!"
"I read through the national and international laws to find out what happens to expelled students – don't look at me like that, Harry; you know that woman will try it and we know what the Ministry did to Hagrid without any solid proof. Anyway, I discovered that the student is removed from society; as in wand snapped and memories wiped."
Harry paled. "But Hagrid –"
"Is a half-giant and Obliviation – and any other memory spells, I think – doesn't work on him. He should've ended up in Azkaban, but Dumbledore took control over the case since he allowed Hagrid to attend Hogwarts in the first place," Hermione said before Harry could finish. "For regular people, there is a safety net in place. After expulsion, the school must consult the international committee that oversees school matters. If the student is enrolled in another school, then they're transferred there."
Harry let out a brief sigh of relief. "So I could enrol in another school after being expelled."
"No, since you're not enrolled in another school at the time of expulsion," Hermione said.
"That doesn't make any sense!" Harry said, narrowing his eyes.
"Actually, it makes a lot of sense," Hermione said. "I asked around and all Pureblood students are of the opinion that 'everyone knows and enrols in multiple schools', completely ignoring that Muggle-borns don't know." Her shoulders slumped. "I assume that's why those laws remain in effect: a quick, easy, and legal way to get rid of unwanted students."
"Bunch of no good rotten gits," Harry said, fury mingled with disgust.
"My family used Durmstrang as second choice," Sirius said.
Harry's ire switched to the fireplace. "And you never thought to mention –"
"No, I didn't," Sirius said, cutting through Harry's starting rant. "Harry, I spent over a decade in Azkaban. You can't expect me to go through every detail in your life. Especially when those details should be in order already." He sighed. "In your case, Hermione, I am sorry. The only real Muggle-born friend I had was Lily and the subject never came up."
Hermione softened somewhat, accepting that the man was incredibly restrained. She pulled out several pieces of parchment. "I wrote the international committee that oversees school matters. My only enrolment is at Hogwarts. As is Harry's."
"James told me the Potters used Beauxbatons as backup. Maybe he forgot," Sirius said, not believing his own words.
Hermione took out another parchment. "Enrolment in Beauxbatons removed per request of Albus Dumbledore who acted on behalf of Mr Potter's legal Muggle guardians, Mr and Mrs Dursley. Full tuition, minus administrative costs, has been repaid to the given account."
"WHAT?" Sirius shouted.
Hermione noticed Harry's dumbfounded state quickly changing, so before he could hurl insults around, she continued, "I have the official forms to enrol at Beauxbatons so we can't be removed in the blink of an eye. My parents will need to sign mine, while the Dursleys will need to sign yours, Harry."
"That'll never happen," Harry mumbled, still annoyed at the previous revelation.
"You're forgetting something," Hermione said, nudging her head at Sirius. "You've got a dangerous mass-murdering Godfather itching for some action. I'm certain he can persuade your relatives to help out. Right, Sirius?"
Sirius's glint made it through the Floo Network. "Persuade, threaten, torture ... sometimes I get confused, but does it really make a difference?" Turning towards Hermione, he asked, "So, care to fess up how you found out Harry's enrolment?"
Hermione shifted. "I might've faked his handwriting," she mumbled.
"Oh, come on," Harry said incredulously. "Sneaking around the castle at night and lying to official international organisations? I'm missing out on everything."
"Call it incentive to stop getting detentions," Hermione said, smiling at him.
"Only one left," he retorted. Returning her smile, he added, "I like the new you. Should have destroyed your faith in authority sooner."
She rolled her eyes. "One more thing, Sirius. Harry needs to get his valuables out of the castle; the faster the better."
"Wait, what?" Harry asked.
"An invaluable Invisibility Cloak, an expensive professional broom, and an interactive Map of Hogwarts. If everyone allows that woman to do that –" Hermione pointed at his hand. "– then she can and will attempt to confiscate your belongings when she finds out about their existence. When, not if ... yesterday, I overheard Ron discussing how handy your Map and Cloak would be to conduct their meetings. As usual, he wasn't subtle. I'm sorry, Harry."
Harry sighed. "No, no, you're right. I'd rather have them safe than stolen by that bint; I'd never see them again."
"Sirius, can you meet us in Hogsmeade two weeks from now?"
"Hold on," Sirius said. He pulled his head from the fire and shouted something incomprehensible.
"Kreacher ordered to retrieve belongings," Kreacher said, after which he started whispering, "Filthy master demanding to fetch trash from nasty Mudblood and scarred brat."
Harry didn't hesitate and ran up the stairs. When he got back, he had all three items with him and handed them to Kreacher who had already received the enrolment papers from Hermione. The elf popped away.
Sirius reappeared in the fireplace. "Got them. I'll get those forms sorted out."
"Do you mind if Sirius uses your belongings?" Hermione asked Harry who shook his head. "Use them to get out of the country, Sirius. Harry and I no longer care for this school, nor do we have any faith in the teachers and the Ministry. Enjoy freedom in a country with no extradition to Britain."
"But –" Sirius trailed off, glancing at Harry.
"We can take care of ourselves," Hermione insisted.
Harry nodded, wondering how Sirius stayed sane with Kreacher around. "Go, Sirius. Anyplace is better than that gaunt shack of yours. We can keep in touch."
Sirius's eyes widened. "Of course. I can't believe I forgot."
The fire dimmed when the connection was lifted.
"Thanks, Hermione," Harry said. Seeing her startled expression, he added, "You know, for researching all of this and ensuring they can't wipe our minds."
Hermione smiled uncertainly before leaning towards him and kissing him on the cheek.
"I'm not interrupting, am I?" Sirius asked.
"SIRIUS!" Harry shouted before seeing the mirror that reflected Sirius's face lying on the couch. He'd not heard Kreacher's arrival or departure. Hermione took the mirror and held it up.
"Sorry. I forgot to tell you how to use this," Sirius said. "Say my name when holding the mirror, then tap it with your wand. I can see I'm not wanted so I'll leave you two lovebirds alone."
The mirror went blank for an instant, before reflecting what was in front of it – two blushing teenagers.
A thudding from the stairs pulled them out of their awkwardness. Harry grabbed Hermione before letting himself drop into the nearby couch so they'd remain unseen from the stairs. He hadn't counted on Hermione falling on top of him, knocking their heads together.
"Ouch," Hermione exclaimed.
"Shhh," he said, putting a finger against her lips while she hovered directly above him.
Whoever came down stopped halfway down the stairs, likely skimming the common room. "N.E.W.T.s must be getting to me." The person treaded back up the stairs.
Hermione could feel Harry's breath on her. Ecstatic from the response at the conclusion of her research, she leaned forwards until her lips met Harry's. A few seconds passed before she pulled away. She licked her lips. "That was –"
"Wet," Harry said.
She smiled shyly. "I was going for awkward, actually."
"Best to keep kissing then, until we're past that," Harry said, nodding slightly.
"Oh?" she asked.
"Wouldn't want you to lie awake in bed, reflecting on the awkwardness."
Hermione didn't object when his lips met hers.
Harry and Hermione had found themselves an empty and out-of-the-way classroom for their spell practice. The lack of dust could only be attributed to the rigorous cleaning by the castle's house-elves. To Hermione's surprise, there was also a bookshelf with some interesting books. After finding only Defence-books, she reasoned they'd stumbled across one of the many Defence-classrooms that had been used in the past, and that this particular Professor hadn't managed to survive the cursed position.
Hermione's eyes widened when she stumbled upon an entry. "Bombarda Maxima. Used for demolition."
"Why don't you note that down for later," Harry said.
"You're not interested in a highly destructive spell?"
Harry looked offended. "Of course I'm interested. But, as I told you, you don't know what it's like, facing him. Since starting this school, I beat him twice and escaped once, using only a few lowly spells."
Hermione nodded. "Give me a moment."
Harry watched as she read through the spell's entry. Every so often, she'd close her eyes and recite the information. After a while, she snapped the book shut before placing it back on the bookshelf. She saw Harry frowning at her.
"What? If Umbridge finds these books, they'll be removed because they're too useful," Hermione said, defending her memorisation of the spell.
"Oh, I know, but, really, five minutes?"
Hermione blushed. "Theory only. Who knows how long the practical will take us?"
"Good point," Harry said.
While Hermione had been busy with the book, Harry had figured out something interesting. They were in a classroom. He guided a curious Hermione to the front of the room, gently pushing her into one of the front-row seats. Then, he moved to the front of the room before turning and smiling at Hermione.
"Due to the unfortunate interference from the Ministry, someone will be taking over your practical Defence lessons." His smile increased, showing his teeth clearly. "Me." He winked at Hermione. "Harry Potter, Boy-Who-Lived, winner of the TriWizard –"
Hermione was already out of her seat, wand out. "One more word ..."
"– Tournament?" Harry finished weakly before sidestepping the spell Hermione threw at him. "Fine, I'll cut the theatrics." He rubbed his jaw. "I think I dislocated my jaw while trying to smile like the ponce."
"Serves you right," Hermione said, crossing her arms. Unable to keep that up, she finally laughed. "Merlin, I'd forgotten how big an idiot Lockhart was." She frowned. "We've not exactly had the best Defence teachers, have we? Only Lupin and, extremely horrifying, a Death Eater."
"Brilliant news for me," Harry said. "I can't exactly do worse."
"I don't know," Hermione said, fixing him with a stare, "you've not exactly taught me anything since our lessons started."
"I have," Harry reminded her. "The spells are irrelevant if you can't use them properly. Which means that – beyond our O.W.L. revision – we'll be doing a lot of practicing with a few general-purpose spells instead of learning dozens that you'd never use. And that demolition spell; never know when we might need to blow something up."
"And the Patronus Charm," Hermione added, which made Harry nod. "What first?"
"Simple disarming and shielding spells so we get familiar with offensive and defensive," Harry said.
Not questioning the simplicity, Hermione turned to put some distance between them. Her wand flew out of her hand a moment later. She turned around, wide-eyed.
"Turning your back on a possible enemy is a very bad idea," Harry said. Noticing her ire, he added, "I won't do that again, but keep that in mind."
"We're in a classroom, not in a war zone," Hermione said.
"You wanted to know what it felt like," Harry protested. "I got kidnapped from grabbing a stupid Trophy. I doubt we'll need to become as paranoid as Moody, but we need to keep our eyes open."
Hermione relented before walking to Harry to retrieve her wand. After receiving it, she gently kissed him and, abusing the opportunity, swiped Harry's wand. She moved away, grinning at him.
"Heh," Harry said, mildly embarrassed.
"Keep your eyes open, Harry," she said before handing him back his wand.
Before he could respond, the door slammed open. Umbridge stood in the doorway, smiling at the both of them. She stepped inside.
"What do we have here?" Umbridge asked. "Two students in a classroom, unsupervised."
"Hello, Professor Umbridge," Hermione said. "We were practicing some spells."
"I see. That'll be detention for the both of you, then. Tonight, my office."
"What for?" Hermione asked.
"Excuse me?" Umbridge replied at Hermione's question.
"I asked Professor McGonagall where students were allowed to practise spells and she told me that all classrooms were available for the students to use. After all, practising magic is a rather fundamental part of a magical school. Why, if such practice were to become forbidden then the Headmaster might find himself forced to rename the school to Hogwarts School of Muggle Subjects."
Harry kept his face blank while Hermione lectured Umbridge like a five-year-old.
"I – you –" Umbridge stuttered. "You're not allowed to have these kind of meetings!"
Hermione looked around the classroom. "I'm sorry, Professor Umbridge, but that Decree applies to three or more students. Harry and I are the only ones here, not counting yourself ... and – no offence meant – but you're not a student."
The furious woman turned and strode out of the classroom.
"Let's add locking and anti-eavesdropping spells to our list," Hermione said.
Harry didn't respond. Instead, he kissed her cheek for pissing Umbridge off in his stead.
The Christmas holidays had started. Harry couldn't remember the last time he'd been so ... free. His detentions were nothing but another bad memory – a thing of the past. He no longer worried about classroom-performances or the accompanying homework. His only concern was the brunette that was lying against him with her feet curled up on the couch as she read her favourite book. She took another deep breath before blowing it out slowly.
"Another one?" he asked.
Hermione nodded. "I read this several times before attending because everything sounded so nice. Only now do I see all the inconsistencies between the rules and their enforcement. Teachers are obligated to consult a student's Head of House when taking more than five points or assigning detentions."
"So McGonagall never stood up for me or it's another ignored rule."
"Hermione?" someone asked.
Harry and Hermione turned towards the female voice. Parvati was standing next to their couch with Lavender at her side.
"Yes, Parvati?" Hermione asked.
"Sorry to intrude, but – I –" Parvati stammered as she fingered the prefect's badge pinned on her robe. She cleared her throat. "I was wondering why you're no longer a prefect."
Hermione grasped Harry's hand and turned it so Parvati could read the pale sentence carved into his skin. "Umbridge made Harry write in his own blood during detentions. McGonagall refused to act and I took offence."
"That's disgusting," Lavender said, horrified eyes still on the sentence.
"But, couldn't you have used your position to –"
"To what, Parvati?" Hermione interrupted her. "I informed our Head of House who also acts as Deputy Headmistress and she did nothing. She will have informed the Headmaster who is also doing nothing. I suppose I could go to the Ministry, but since they put Umbridge here ..." Hermione pursed her lips. "I refuse to waste my time patrolling corridors and lecturing students, only for the teachers to neglect their own dratted duty, or worse, counteract us."
"Counteract you?" Lavender asked, her curiosity winning from her shock that the sticker-to-the-rules was cursing and refusing to help teachers.
"Yes," Parvati said before Hermione could. "I gave Malfoy detention once and he got off immediately while I got a lecture. 'Disliking a student is not a valid reason to take points from, or assign detentions to, an exemplary student.' I argued but I was waved out of the room."
Lavender turned to Parvati. "She's right, you know. Why bother spending your time for a badge and a bathroom? Your grades are slipping and you're ... getting cranky."
Parvati unpinned the badge and stared at it. She thought it was a sign of respect and authority, an opportunity to learn responsibility and leadership. After seeing people abuse it and getting away with it again-and-again, the badge didn't look so prestigious anymore. "Blast it, I'm done with this."
"You should also know," Harry said, "that the residential genius here found out that you could get your memories wiped by the Ministry if you're expelled while not enrolled in another school. You should get that straightened out, before someone –"
"Malfoy," Hermione interjected.
"– takes advantage of that vulnerability to get some childish revenge."
"What?!" Parvati asked, already seething. "My parents did not leave their home country for me to put up with this crap!"
Parvati and Lavender turned to each other, fire igniting in their eyes.
"Don't worry about the pureblood students. They're enrolled in multiple schools from birth," Hermione said.
Harry leaned closer to Hermione so he could whisper in her ear. "Do you realise what we just told the two biggest contenders to the title of Gossip Queen in this school?"
Hermione's unrepentant grin clarified she knew exactly what they'd done.
"Why, I never!" the Fat Lady screamed.
The portrait had slammed open, after which a small group of official-looking people entered the common room. Umbridge, accompanied by Dumbledore, McGonagall, and a few sturdy-looking men strode into the room to the surprise of the dozen remaining students. When Umbridge found Harry, she and her entourage walked over to him.
Parvati and Lavender got out of the way, but remained close enough to overhear.
"Mr Potter," Umbridge said with great satisfaction, "by order of the Ministry you are to hand over the interactive map of Hogwarts. This object is in direct violation of every occupant's privacy."
Harry inwardly thanked Hermione's brain. Later today, when these bumbling idiots were gone, he'd show her his appreciation in spades. "I'm sorry, Professor, but I don't have any maps of Hogwarts." Though it galled him to call the bint by her official title, doing so ensured she couldn't assign him detentions.
"Don't be silly, Mr Potter, I was informed by a reliable source. We have permission to search your belongings should you refuse to cooperate."
"Now, Dolores –"
"Albus," she interrupted, "I have been authorised by the Head of the Department of Magical Law and Enforcement. These Aurors were assigned to me to find that enchanted parchment. Now, Mr Potter, where is it?"
"I advise you to cooperate, Harry," Dumbledore said.
Harry ignored the penetrating stare, which was aimed below his eyes. "I have no enchanted parchments of any kind. Feel free to search through my belongings; my trunk is open at the foot of my bed. Leave everything as you found it, please. I'd hate to have to file a complaint for destruction of property, or worse, stolen items."
Umbridge stalked towards his dormitory, followed by Dumbledore – no doubt wanting to ensure some specific items didn't fall into the wrong hands – and all but one of the Aurors.
Hermione leaned into Harry, ignoring both McGonagall and the idiot that had been left behind to ensure they didn't hide anything. To their amusement, none of the students left the room since they obviously wanted to see this play out.
A furious Umbridge rampaged down the stairs. When she arrived in front of Harry, she grabbed a nearby bag and dumped the contents on their couch. A vibrating mirror fell out. Before Umbridge could reach for it, Hermione had grabbed it, holding it against her stomach.
"Excuse me," Hermione said, "but that is my bag. How dare you treat my belongings with such disrespect?" She turned to the Aurors. "I'd like to press charges. To my knowledge, Professor Umbridge does not have permission to search my belongings."
"Now, Miss Granger, it was an honest mistake," Dumbledore said over the spluttering woman's objections.
"Children can afford to make mistakes," Hermione said, giving Dumbledore a look of contempt. "Figures in authority, however, do not get to make mistakes like this."
"That mirror!" Umbridge shouted. "It was shaking! It's obviously enchanted."
"Like every mirror in this castle," Hermione retorted. "I had it done at a shop in Diagon Alley." She tilted the mirror upwards, hiding the reflection. "Mirror, mirror, how does my hair look today?"
"Your breasts are in the way, dear," a simpering voice came from the mirror.
Hermione, shocked and mortified, held the mirror up and was stumped when she saw her own reflection.
"Ah, still as bushy as ever. Sleekeazy's Permanent Hair Potion, dear, you won't regret it! It works on all hair ... even – you know – down there."
Umbridge grabbed the mirror from Hermione's hands, turning it around only to see her own reflection.
"IIIIiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeee! Begone, foul demon! Hocus Pocus! I banish you back to the planes of damnation!"
Harry had had enough – he wasn't certain he could keep his face straight if Sirius kept this up – and snapped out his wand. "Accio mirror!" He caught the object and handed it back to Hermione.
"Aurors!" Umbridge called out. "Arrest the boy for interfering!"
The Aurors turned towards their spokesperson, who said, "Madam Umbridge, we were ordered to help you search for that map, not to assault a bystander for an unrelated object. Will I have to arrest you for attempted theft or are we done here?"
Umbridge reddened before storming out of the common room. The Aurors followed her out, several of them shaking their heads at the mind-boggling waste of their time.
"Hey, I still want to press charges," Hermione said.
The spokesperson turned around. "I'll file the paperwork, Miss Granger," he said before leaving the common room.
"I'm disappointed in you," Dumbledore said to Harry.
Harry didn't respond, seeing as much point in that as telling McGonagall something.
"Detention. Both of you," McGonagall said.
Hermione didn't argue, seeing as much point in that as Harry did.
Before Dumbledore and McGonagall could exit the common room too, Parvati stepped forwards.
"Professor," Parvati said. "My falling grades are unacceptable. I resign from the prefect position."
McGonagall accepted the badge that was thrust towards her, mildly shocked because another person ditched the position. When she looked around the common room, she found that none of them seemed to care about this lack of respect. On the contrary, Parvati and Lavender had made their way to a small group of students and had started whispering while pointing at her. She exited the common room after Dumbledore.
Harry and Hermione went up to Harry's dormitory for solitude and to avoid the unscrupulous stares of the Gryffindor students in the common room. The mirror now reflected the widely grinning Sirius Black.
"So, what's up?" Sirius asked.
"Hermione's breasts, apparently," Harry said, dodging a swat from Hermione.
"When I get my hands on you ... I – I'll force you into your Animagus form and have you neutered," Hermione said to Sirius. "How did you even change the reflection?"
"Safety feature," Sirius said. "You can tap your mirror twice and both mirrors will reflect as they should. Tap three times to observe what's happening at the other end, which I did and which you could have done after getting to safety."
"Well, no more ogling my girlfriend," Harry said. "Go find your own."
"Ah, you two together? Congratulations. I want to hear about wandering hands when we meet."
"Harry, you'd never kiss and tell, would you?" Hermione asked Harry who quickly shook his head. She turned to Sirius. "If you try to get any details, I'll neuter you myself ... using a jagged blunt knife, you vicious opportunity-seizing bastard."
"Whatever happened to the nice, rule-abiding, anti-profanity girl?" Sirius lamented.
"I started dating Harry," she said, lips twitching.
Harry didn't protest, choosing to put his arm around Hermione before kissing her cheek.
"I get it, ignore me," Sirius said. "The forms have been submitted and accepted. You're both enrolled at Beauxbatons should you need it. I've left the country and I'm living it up."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "How nice of Dumbledore to inform me about that."
"He must have forgotten," Hermione said to Harry's astonishment. "Something happened with the Weasleys. They were crying when they left, but due to our falling-out we don't know anything else. Harry's been having mild headaches but Madam Pomfrey couldn't find anything wrong with him."
"Really?" Sirius asked with a grin. "Nothing at all?"
"Piss off." Harry made to turn the mirror off.
"WAIT!" Sirius shouted, halting Harry. "Have you ever had headaches around Snivellus or Dumbledore?" At Harry's hesitant nod, Sirius growled. "Look ... Hogwarts doesn't teach everything, and certainly nothing related to the mind. Legilimency is the art of reading minds while Occlumency is the art of blocking Legilimency."
Hermione looked appalled. "They've been reading our minds?" she demanded.
"It's the only thing I can think of that can cause headaches. I never put in the effort since I focused on becoming an Animagus. Might be something else entirely."
"I'll research it tomorrow," Hermione said.
Sirius shook his head. "Not possible since there isn't a single book in existence about these arts. Magical families pass this down with only the vaguest of instructions. This isn't schoolwork material with a step-by-step procedure from theoretical to practical, Hermione. This is sheer instinct developed from practical. For Legilimency, you need to push your magic towards someone and try to read them. For Occlumency, you need to wrap your magic around yourself and block the incoming magic. For both, the eyes are the easiest target and the easiest defence."
"Practice?" Hermione asked Harry.
"Practice." Harry nodded, not objecting to more private lessons with Hermione.
"Hold on," Sirius interjected before they could put their plans into action. "This is magic at a basic level. Blocking foreign magic is easy, but you need to learn Legilimency first ... which has a big problem. Your magic will become – for lack of a better word – familiar with each other. If you practice too much, it might even instinctively reach out when you're close. Keeping secrets will be nigh impossible."
Hermione frowned at the explanation. "Wouldn't learning Occlumency block that?"
"Your magic will be familiar by then," Sirius repeated. "In your instance, Harry's magic would have been accepted so many times as trustworthy that your magic would no longer work against it ... or even worse, your magic might aide his magic to accomplish his goals. You can learn Occlumency, only it won't work against one another." Sirius gave them both a grave look. "If you learn this together, there's no going back ... except physically staying away from the other."
"I think this is the first time we've ever gotten a solid and appropriate warning," Hermione said.
"Yeah, I'm used to rushing in and dealing with the consequences," Harry said.
"And Sirius was the one who gave us that warning," Hermione said, eyes widening. "That's so disturbing ..."
"Wha – I'm not –"
Hermione tapped the mirror off. Harry failed to refrain a snort at her smug expression. She gave him a quick kiss.
"Practise?" she asked him again.
"I don't know about you, but I'd rather have you in my head for life than Snape or Dumbledore for the merest of seconds. I'd understand if you'd rather not –"
Hermione silenced him with a finger against his lips. "I feel the same way."
Classes had restarted and Harry was walking towards the Gryffindor common room with a purpose. He had received confirmation of Ron's assigned detentions for 'lying to an official', signalling the redhead had been Umbridge's reliable source. While Harry understood Ron might not have done that voluntarily – most likely out of rage, spite, or jealousy – Harry didn't care anymore. He would get even, especially when adding in the scathing looks he received from the Quidditch team for daring to quit the team. He needed to talk with Sirius.
Entering the common room, he located Hermione and made his way over to her. Before he could greet her, someone else strode over to them.
"Mr Potter, Miss Granger," McGonagall said, sweeping her gaze over the both of them. "For not showing up for your detention, twenty-five points from Gryffindor, each, and a week of detentions."
"Yes, Professor," they both said.
McGonagall nodded before walking out of the common room, satisfied at their immediate answer.
"I can't believe she bought that," Hermione said, shaking her head. "You looked in a hurry, anything wrong?"
"I need a word with our lazy teacher to get some revenge," Harry said.
Hermione frowned, but didn't hesitate to stand up. She grabbed her bag before they left the common room in search of an empty room. They sat down next to each other, after which Hermione took the mirror out of her bag and handed it to Harry.
No response. Hermione shrugged at Harry's perplex look. Half a minute later, the reflection changed.
Harry stared at the mirror, which reflected the sleepy and groggy face of his godfather. He put the mirror down on the desk so Sirius would only see the classroom ceiling. Hermione was already smiling broadly, teeth visible. She leaned towards Harry and whispered something, to which he nodded resolutely. They both took a deep breath.
"SIRIUS BLACK," Hermione shouted.
"We've got you surrounded!" Harry added.
A female-sounding shriek resonated from the mirror. "My wand – where's my wand?!"
"Throw your wand out or – or –"
"We'll polka-dot your skin, you mangy dog!"
The sense of urgency was replaced with vivid cursing, making Harry and Hermione laugh. Hermione shifted the mirror so they could watch Sirius's disgruntled expression.
"The Marauders had boundaries, you know," Sirius said.
"Boundaries?" Harry asked, tasting the word on his tongue.
"There are no boundaries when getting even ... and I'm not quite there yet," Hermione said.
"No mercy, huh?" Sirius asked. "Good for you, I wouldn't either. What do you need?"
"The pink hag searched through my belongings with Ministerial approval during the holidays and I've now found who's responsible. I need you to use the map to find where the Weasleys and their group go to practice magic," Harry said.
"I'll leave it activated," Sirius said. He yawned. "What then? You can't take them all on."
Harry looked innocently at the mirror. "Haven't you heard? Groupings of three or more students have been made illegal. I feel duty-bound to turn them in – anonymously, of course. Sad, really. Breaks my heart."
"I like it," Sirius said, emitting another yawn. "Anything else? I need to get back to my beauty sleep."
"Don't bother, it's not helping," Hermione said before tapping the mirror. Seeing Harry's raised eyebrows, she added, "Fine, I'll consider it over and done with, but if he ever talks about my privates again –"
"I'll hold him down for you."
Hermione placed the mirror back in her bag. She turned her chair to face Harry's, causing him to do the same. They both started staring into each other's eyes. Half an hour passed without any indication of them doing anything. Harry suddenly looked intently at Hermione and, a few minutes later, closed his eyes.
"McGonagall turned your coffee table into a lion?" Harry asked.
Hermione's mouth parted slightly. She stood up, stepped forward, and sat down on his legs before hugging him. "You did it," she whispered.
"Hermione," he said, loosening the hug so he could see her eyes again, "you need to stop thinking about it. Guide your magic to my eyes and trust your magic to get it right."
A while later, Harry's legs had fallen asleep. He didn't complain. Holding a pretty witch was another thing to savour, and a lot more precious than a silly Butterbeer.
Hermione giggled. "Hagrid gave your cousin a tail?"
Harry smiled at the memory. He gave her a peck on the lips. "Looks like we covered the basics. Now, we need to master it."
"That interested in what goes on in my mind?"
"Yes," Harry said, unashamed. "I'm very much interested in all of you, thoughts included."
"I know. I might have stolen it from your thoughts to use it against you."
She swatted his arm before standing up and grabbing her bag. "We should head back to the common room."
"After my legs wake up."
Hermione opened her mouth, only to close it again. Grinning, she stepped around the chair. She blew a breath against his neck.
"Hermione, what are y –?"
She kissed his cheek. Then, taking her sweet time, she trailed kisses across the back of his neck towards the other cheek. Finally arriving there, she noticed Harry putting a bit of weight on his legs. She caught on and immediately ran out of the classroom, laughing.
Harry pursued her in an instant. "Get back here, you wench!"
Harry and Hermione shared an amused glance. They followed McGonagall who was escorting them to the Headmaster's office. Earlier in the day, Harry had slipped a piece of parchment that contained information about the illicit meetings under Umbridge's door. He couldn't wait to see what the woman would do with that. At the same time, the entire prefect system had collapsed within days since most of the good students had resigned, none of them willing to clean up after the few incompetents. Hermione had gleefully pointed out that this would get worse; after all, when a prefect confiscates some candy for their own usage and the wronged student writes home ...
The group of three passed the gargoyle in silence before making their way up the rotating stairs.
"– nothing you can do, Albus. Trelawney will be sacked."
McGonagall knocked on the door to prevent them from overhearing more.
"Enter," Dumbledore said.
McGonagall opened the door, allowing them to step inside.
"My appointment has arrived, Dolores. I will inform Sybill not to expect classes while she ponders the intricacies of Divination while she remains in her tower, a privilege that remains with me. I bid you a good day."
Umbridge strode out of the office.
"Mr Potter, Miss Granger. Please explain why you have been ignoring your detentions," Dumbledore said.
Everyone took a seat.
At Hermione's urging, Harry put forth some effort instead of ignoring the man. "I'm sorry, Headmaster, but I'm unable to recall missing detentions."
"You both received a week of detentions from me, Mr Potter," McGonagall said.
"We did?" Harry asked Hermione who bit her lip and nodded. "Strange, I must have forgotten. Why did we receive those detentions?"
"For missing a detention," McGonagall said in a clipped tone, not amused at his reaction.
"We received another detention?" Harry asked Hermione again.
"Apparently," Hermione said.
"Why did we receive that one?" he asked.
"For disrespecting a teacher," McGonagall snapped.
Harry dropped the innocent act. "Someone barges into the common room, demands an object that I don't have, searches through my belongings, throws Hermione's belongings around and you expect us to remain courteous?"
"Teachers deserve respect!"
"As do students," Hermione said. "How is my complaint coming along?"
Dumbledore looked disappointed. "On my request, Auror Shacklebolt never filed a complaint. Dolores made a mistake."
Harry and Hermione didn't comment on his blatant manipulation of the justice system.
"I can't allow students to avoid assigned detentions," Dumbledore said.
Before the man could continue with his reprimand, Harry said, "Professor Flitwick assigned Hermione and me detention for not paying attention in his class. We both attended since we deserved it. However, we won't attend undeserved detentions."
"The reasons for being assigned a detention might not make sense to you now –"
Harry turned to Hermione again. "Did I get the wording wrong? I could have sworn I said 'undeserved detentions', not 'inexplicable detentions'."
"Now, see here –" McGonagall started.
Harry sprung out of his chair and, using the motion to his advantage, slammed his scarred hand on Dumbledore's desk. He ignored the pain that shot up his hand. "I've seen all I needed to see. Both of you allowed that hag to torture me, so don't expect me to show either of you a glimpse of respect. You disgust me."
Dumbledore took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes slowly. McGonagall paled, now understanding that her students would not back down. Hermione stood up and linked her arm with Harry's. They walked out of the office. Neither Dumbledore nor McGonagall attempted to stop them, both contemplating the consequences of their inaction.
A week had slipped by since the inconsequential meeting. The young couple was seated in the Great Hall, enjoying their lunch. Their practise of Legilimency had had an unintentional and exhilarating consequence. While they still needed eye contact, their magic flowed back-and-forth easily, transferring their thoughts without any effort. Sirius had unceremoniously told them that their instinctive trust towards each other had likely caused that to happen.
'Trelawney has been drinking non-stop since Umbridge dismissed her,' Hermione thought.
'Pity she didn't drink more beforehand. Her lessons could have only improved,' Harry thought back after a few seconds. 'My inner eye has observed the intricacies of the purple polka-dotted Bowtruckle. This means you'll die, Harry. Again.'
Hermione snorted. 'You know of the people patrolling the corridors?'
'The Inquisitorial Squad?'
'No, the Defence Squad. The Inquisitorial Squad was a rumour based on Umbridge handpicking Pureblood students from Slytherin. Dumbledore tried to get the Aurors involved to form a Defence Association. They were both overruled by the Board of Governors who hired unemployed recent-graduates to keep the students in line.'
'Why would Dumbledore want to involve the Aurors? They're paid by the Ministry who – correct me if I'm wrong – have been shredding my and his reputation.'
'Probably Aurors in his pocket,' Hermione thought. 'In the end, all three parties involved got exactly what they deserved ... and what they had wanted to avoid.' Hermione grinned at him. 'The first patrol from the Defence Squad stumbled across a seventh-year Ravenclaw attacking a few first years. They reported the incident to McGonagall, Dumbledore and the Board. Each time they were sent away with empty platitudes, so they went up one step in the chain ... until they involved Law Enforcement. Dumbledore was forced to expel the perpetrator or the first years' parents would have pressed charges. That idiot seventh-year is now enjoying the comfort of Durmstrang.'
Harry thought back to what Hermione had said. In reality, he used Legilimency to fetch the memory from her while he did his best to ignore her consequent eye-rolling. '... Rumour has it? I can deal with rule-breaking, but really, rumours?'
'Fine, I skimmed Parvati's thoughts,' Hermione thought back, blushing. 'She's a treasure-trove for everything that happens inside Hogwarts. Consider it repayment for our warning her.'
'I've completely derailed your moral compass!' Harry's eyes widened.
Hermione pecked him on the lips. 'Stop pretending you care, Harry. I can feel your smug satisfaction.'
'Drat. Foiled again.'
They both ignored the confused people around them, obviously not understanding how their emotions were changing without them exchanging a single word. Parvati and Lavender weren't confused since they found it highly romantic and couldn't resist giggling each time they saw the couple.
The door of the Great Hall opened, revealing a smiling Umbridge that remained standing in the doorpost.
"Twenty-four students have been holding unsanctioned meetings, which is in breach of Education Decree Number Twenty-four. These meetings were of a violent nature, resulting in several students being admitted to the Hospital Wing for a wide range of magically inflicted injuries. All students have been identified and a listing is posted in your common rooms."
Everyone could easily pick out the drastically paling faces of the involved students, most of which had been in the Hog's Head. Coincidentally, most were also from Gryffindor.
'Come on, you vindictive hag,' Harry thought. 'Punishment time.'
Hermione moved a hand in front of her mouth to hide her reaction.
"Each of those students will be docked fifty points and will attend a daily detention lasting until the end of the school year. Since the entire Gryffindor Quidditch team was amongst these rule-breakers, effective immediately, their team is disbanded."
The involved students protested vehemently, to great amusement of Harry who chuckled aloud before Hermione kicked him under the table.
'Ok, ok. I'll refrain from cackling evilly. Move your hand upwards, Hermione, your smile is showing.'
'Seeing her rip other people to shreds is more satisfying than having her focussed on yourself, isn't it, Harry?'
Harry didn't respond since he needed all his effort to keep has face blank instead of conveying his happiness. McGonagall looked ready to transform into her Animagus form to scratch Umbridge's face.
"But – but we need time to study," one of the students protested.
Umbridge looked at that person while sugar-coating her words with ease. "You had sufficient time to impeach on the rules so I'm convinced you have an equal amount of time available to attend your detentions while keeping up with your studies."
After Umbridge left, students started departing too, anxious to read the list available in their common rooms to find out who had been punished so severely. Harry and Hermione left at a sedated pace towards their next class, uncaring as to who had been maimed by Umbridge's punishments. When they arrived early, they both ignored the pesky and talkative Malfoy.
After entering the classroom, they started on the potion while completely ignoring everyone else. Hermione had only needed a few lessons to figure out that Snape hovered nearby to interrupt them only whenever they reached a critical stage in their potion. That changed today when Harry felt magic brush against his own. Since it felt unlike Hermione's, he shrouded himself in his magic to block the attempted Legilimency.
Hermione lost her focus on the potion when Harry grabbed her arm. Her eyes snapped to him. His horrified eyes made her breath hitch, especially when she heard his plea.
Ignoring the bubbling potion, she pushed her magic towards Harry and felt the foreign magic that had already started trickling into Harry's mind, bypassing Harry's first foray into Occlumency. Hermione shivered at the massive amount of magic Harry had spun around himself. She gathered her magic before sending it towards Harry. Once there, she let it merge with Harry's shroud before twisting their magic to push the foreign magic away. Her gamble paid off since the foreign magic instantly disappeared; her magic had directed Harry's to attack their mutual enemy.
"Class dismissed," Snape said with a crooked smile. "Potter, Granger, Headmaster's office!"
Harry and Hermione silently followed the man, still recuperating from the immense amount of magic they'd expelled. They knew each other well enough to know what the other was thinking, so they had no need to communicate with each other. This situation would be spinning out of control and they hoped they'd manage to keep the upper ground.
They entered the office where Hermione picked up on Dumbledore's unfocussed eyes while Snape's were locked on him. She didn't hide her revulsion for the men. Harry noticed it an instant later. Neither of them bothered to take a seat, unwilling to spend a single amicable second in the presence of these vile and unscrupulous bastards.
"Miss Granger," Dumbledore said, looking disappointed, "attacking a teacher is against school policy. I'm afraid I have no choice but to expel you."
Snape's superior look at their incredulous expressions grew more intense. Harry and Hermione shared a glance at the overly harsh punishment for self-defence.
"Unless," Dumbledore continued, "Harry –"
Hermione didn't need to hear more. A weak attempt to force Harry to fall back in line. Hermione shrugged. "My next enrolment is with Beauxbatons. I'll go pack my belongings."
Dumbledore's eyes widened a mere fraction.
Hermione turned to Harry. "I'll see you there tomorrow?"
"Of course," Harry said.
"Mr Potter is not expelled and will be staying at Hogwarts," Dumbledore said forcefully.
Hermione kissed Harry's cheek. "Remember, Malfoy before Ron, but Ron before Crabbe or Goyle. After this, I'd put Snape at the same level as Malfoy."
"Got it," Harry said, smiling widely. "Any preference which curse I should hit them with?"
"No, take your pick. Just make certain the Defence Squad sees you cursing them ... they'll have you properly expelled by tomorrow, so I guess I'll see you tomorrow or the day after." She sighed. "One or two days without you. I don't know how I'll manage."
"I'm sure Beauxbatons has good couches to curl into while you read the history of their school," Harry said confidently.
Hermione pecked him on the lips. "Help me pack?"
"Of course, I'll only need to pack tomorrow anyway."
They turned their backs to the two men and started walking out of the office when a panicked voice stopped them in their tracks.
"Wait!" Dumbledore said with a slight pitch in his voice.
"Yes, Professor?" Harry and Hermione said as they turned as one, neither bothering to hide their smile.
"I won't allow this! I will not stand for you casually discussing premeditated attacks!"
Harry gave the man a perplexed look. "What you allow or stand for is irrelevant. The Squad will see me expelled. You don't factor into the equation." Harry didn't bother bringing up the scar on his hand again, which proved that Dumbledore's words didn't match up with his actions.
Dumbledore's eyes closed. "After careful reconsideration, Miss Granger, I'm certain you acted in defence of your friend and didn't intend to attack a Professor."
The young couple started walking out of the office again. They didn't bother to hide their conversation.
"I told you so," Hermione said.
"Yes, you did. I still can't believe it," Harry said as he opened the door.
"Second year, Harry. Tom Riddle was awarded a Special Award for Services to the School, which implies some of the teachers here taught Voldemort. If a Dark Lord managed not to get expelled, I'm certain we can manage too."
Harry and Hermione's mind-lessons had come to a halt after another month of practice. Their magic now easily flowed between themselves, instinctively protecting their minds while automatically listening in on the 'loud thoughts'. Eye contact was a silly restriction of the past since their magic connected as long as they were within a few feet, a distance that was slowly increasing.
Snape's attacks remained, no matter that they constantly rebuffed him. Sirius had not been amused and instantly set out to prepare payback for the disgusting bastard. While the finalised plan was highly dangerous, the advantages were worth the risk. Their confidence was bolstered by their successful practice from their own practical Defence lessons.
Potions class had ended and, for the first time, Harry remained behind while Hermione left. Snape picked up on this and didn't hesitate to launch his Legilimency probe. He skimmed through Harry's thoughts and plans until he –
Hermione had slipped back into the classroom under a well-practiced Disillusionment Charm. She restrained her magic to avoid helping Harry out this one time. She moved behind Snape. "Stupefy!"
A dull thud echoed around the room after Snape hit the floor.
Harry turned towards the door. "Colloportus, Muffliato."
Hermione had already bound Snape before floating him into a chair. Once there, she bound him to the chair for good measure. Her lips twitched when Harry swiped Snape's wand and tossed it into a nearby simmering cauldron. A small hiss could be heard, followed by a few bubbles. Hermione took out the mirror and placed it on a nearby table so Sirius could see Snape's current predicament.
"Well done," Sirius said. "Now, break into his side-chamber. I swear on my mother's grave the filth has Veritaserum."
"We've met your mother's portrait, Sirius," Harry said.
"You can't expect me to sacrifice something worthwhile when dealing with scum," Sirius said indignantly.
After a few attempts to open the door, Harry and Hermione decided to use their most destructive spell.
The door splintered, debris flying through the chamber and destroying two steaming cauldrons. The contents disappeared between the tiles on the ground. The couple entered the room, searching through the potions. Shelves were filled with ingredients, some highly dangerous and illegal. When Hermione found and opened a hidden drawer, they struck gold. Five phials were displayed, neatly spread on a velvet cushion.
Amortentia. Draught of Living Death. Felix Felicis. Polyjuice. Veritaserum.
Hermione levitated the cushion onto the nearby worktable. After casting a few detection spells, she handed the Veritaserum to Harry. "What about the others?"
"Do you trust Snape?" Harry asked. "There could be an ingredient missing or something else that we might overlook. We're already taking a big chance with this one." He wiggled the phial of Veritaserum.
Hermione flicked her wand at the cushion, making it fly into a nearby wall. The four phials shattered. The contents mixed, sizzled, and eventually disappeared between the tiles.
They walked back into the classroom where they informed Sirius of their success. Hermione then removed the effect of the stunner.
Snape sprang to life. "POT –"
"Stupefy," Hermione recast. Noticing the two raised eyebrows, she said, "What? We can't feed him a potion if his mouth is closed."
"How many drops?" Harry asked.
"Ten," Sirius said.
After Harry had finished, Hermione removed the stunner again. Snape's eyes had glazed over and his head lolled.
"I don't think that's supposed to happen," Hermione said.
"I'd rather not chance him lying with the prescribed maximum of five drops," Sirius said, uncaring towards Snape's peculiar reaction. "Snivellus, did you wet your pants when you saw Remus during the full moon for the first time?"
"Why does he answer to that name?" Hermione asked.
"Veritaserum forces the user to answer all questions, regardless of address," Snape said.
"Neat," Harry said. Getting straight to the point, he asked, "What do you use my memories for?"
"To keep Albus informed so he can guide you. To keep Voldemort placated so he leaves me alone."
Hermione's arm shot out to steady Harry, who had whitened completely.
"You've been telling Dumbledore and Voldemort everything you've found in my memories?"
"Does Voldemort know you're a spy?" Sirius asked, looking intently at the man.
Sirius started laughing, drawing the attention of the stunned teenagers. "Come now," Sirius told them, "don't tell me neither of you suspected this. If Voldemort planted Snape at Hogwarts to spy on Dumbledore, then logic dictates that Snape needs to play nice with our side while curbing his behaviour to fully integrate himself and gain our trust. He hasn't. Voldemort is no fool, so he must know Snape is playing both sides. How many people have you sold out?"
"Five on each side," Snape said.
"Unbelievable," Hermione whispered, shaking her head.
Harry frowned. "Do you know why Voldemort attacked my parents?"
"Why did Voldemort attack Harry's parents?" Hermione asked after the man didn't continue.
"A prophecy was made by Trelawney that foretold Potter's birth and the Dark Lord's demise. He sought to invalidate the prophecy before Potter could grow in power."
Harry sagged into a nearby chair. Hermione cocooned him with her magic, helping him relax with soft ministrations.
"What do you know about this prophecy?" Sirius asked.
"I overheard the first part when Dumbledore interviewed Trelawney. 'The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies.' I told Voldemort."
Sirius growled. That filth was responsible for his friends' deaths.
"Does Dumbledore know of your involvement?" Hermione asked.
"Unbelievable," Sirius said, copying Hermione's earlier statement.
"My parents died because of me," Harry whispered.
Hermione swatted him on the back of the head. "Don't be ridiculous. Voldemort's responsible for killing them. Snape's responsible for setting Voldemort on them. Dumbledore's responsible for not Obliviating the bastard. You were a baby, Harry, hardly responsible for anything beyond eating and sleeping." She sat down on his legs and gave him a long, lingering kiss while wrapping her magic around him again.
Harry stared at her with wide eyes, feeling her intentions behind both her words and her magic.
"Ignore the prophecy," Sirius said. "The Ministry stores them to find out why those dratted things are made. Most are incorrect, ridiculous, or never happen. The people that run that archive will know of this prophecy and they are ignoring it because it's a bunch of worthless drivel."
Harry nodded before turning his attention to the grease-ball that was partly responsible for his parents' deaths. His eyes narrowed and he tried to stand up, but Hermione's new seating arrangement kept him down.
"Good. Now, do you know why Veritaserum is illegal?" Sirius asked the couple.
"Because it can force you to reveal things that could kill you," Snape said, answering the question in their stead.
"Exactly," Sirius said, already smiling. "So ... Snape ... what can you not tell us that would kill you due to an Unbreakable Vow?"
Snape shook his head frantically. His teeth were clenched together to avoid the question. "I'm – providing – Dumbledore – with –" Snape started convulsing. The chair toppled from Snape's sudden movements. He twitched a few times before lying still, blood pouring from his eyes and nose.
Both teenagers looked horrified at Snape's corpse.
"Don't even think about it," Sirius said, halting them before they could do anything. "Don't let Dumbledore's scheming distract you from the plan. Get out of there and discuss some new spell you just practiced. Students will hear it, they will believe it, and they will tell anyone who questions them what they overheard."
They shut off the mirror and cast a Disillusionment Charm on themselves before walking out of the room, still dazed from the proceedings.
Harry and Hermione let out a huge breath of relief when the last examination was done. Sirius was right when he informed them that several people would never allow Harry to walk away; Dumbledore because of the prophecy and the Ministry because of his fame, whether he was depicted as insane or not. As such, they'd followed his slightly insane yet highly beneficial plan, leading to their current state of complete exhaustion. They had no idea what time it was, but not a sound could be heard in the castle – not including their own footsteps.
There had not been an investigation into Snape's death after Dumbledore ruled it an unfortunate potions accident. Whatever Dumbledore wanted to keep hidden had been important enough to cover up the successful murder of the git. The students rejoiced, some in secret, most in public.
"Hey, scar-head," Malfoy said as he turned a corner. "Catch."
Before Harry could respond, he felt an object hitting his shoulder. The dreadful feeling of a hook around his naval made clear he'd been kidnapped from the castle. Again. Only this time, Hermione was unceremoniously dragged along since she had had her arm looped through Harry's. They dropped to the floor in a massive room where rows upon rows of orb-filled shelves could be seen.
"They're not very original, are they?" Harry asked.
"Apparently not," Hermione said. 'Malfoy's a useless twat. Voldemort must be behind this.'
'Probably. Why aren't we facing him instead of this useless room?'
"Harry," Hermione said, pointing at a specific orb.
'The prophecy,' Harry thought.
"It has your name on it," Hermione said, stretching for time. 'He must want to know the rest, which means we're not alone ... Disillusionment Charms.'
'Great,' Harry thought sarcastically.
'What do we do?'
Harry picked up on the instant delegation. She trusted his experience in dealing with Voldemort. "The question mark implies it could about someone else. And, seriously, Trelawney? She couldn't foretell today's weather while standing outside." 'Look around in confusion and find the exit.'
"Maybe she's hiding her abilities so she's left alone?" Hermione asked, glancing around the shelves to find an escape-route. 'Five feet to the main corridor, then to the left.'
"Perhaps," Harry mused. 'I'll pretend to play along. Before I grasp the orb, I'll throw a Bombarda Maxima at the base of this row.'
'I'll do the other side.'
"Maybe I should take it and find out?" 'Three.'
"Go ahead," Hermione said.
'Two.' Harry lifted his hand towards the orb. 'One.'
"Bombarda Maxima!" they both shouted, flicking their wands. They didn't stick around to see the results. Instead, they were running towards the exit. On the way there, they put themselves under a Disillusionment Charm, easily keeping track of the other via expelling their magic.
Their spells slammed through the wooden structures, passing through several more of them. The destroyed base started collapsing and ensured the contents – the massive amount of orbs – fell to the ground where they shattered on impact. The hidden people's cursing was drowned out in the amount of prophecies being spoken.
Before they reached the exit, Harry ordered, 'Again!'
They turned around and saw some masked people catching up.
They ran through the exit. Hermione's spell flickered out after it connected with the first base.
"Colloportus," Hermione cast at the door, making it glow for a second, though incredibly dull.
They moved to the other side and entered the next room. Once the door closed behind them, the room started spinning.
"Great," Harry said. "How are we going to find the exit?"
The spinning sensation stopped and one of the doors opened. The corridor behind the door lit up, showing an elevator at the end. They didn't hesitate to run towards the elevator.
"I swear – no one – has your – luck," Hermione said, holding a hand against her stomach.
They stepped inside the elevator and, not seeing any buttons, Harry hoped his luck lasted just a bit longer. "Exit?"
The elevator started rising just when a few Death Eaters strode into the circular room. One of them shot off a spell, which blasted the space below the elevator. From the consequent shouting, it seemed as if whoever had shot off the curse was being severely reprimanded.
Harry glanced at Hermione and, to his horror, could see her clearly. Her invisibility had faded away and she looked dead on her feet. "Hermione? Did you get hit?"
Hermione shook her head weakly.
"The Atrium," a voice said while the doors opened.
Harry helped Hermione out of the elevator. As soon as she was outside, she collapsed from exhaustion.
"I'm sorry, Harry," she whispered. "After the exam – and now – I can't – you should go."
Harry removed his own invisibility and reached out for Hermione's magic, feeling there was almost nothing left. He took her head between his hands and pushed some of his magic towards her. 'You must have lost your pretty little head if you think I'd leave the girl I love behind. I know you love me too. Legilimency has its uses.'
A tear rolled down her cheek. "But –"
The elevator, having descended earlier, could be heard making its way up again. Harry stuck his wand through the grille and pointed it downwards.
"Bombarda Maxima," he cast.
Metal creaked when the spell hit the elevator, accompanied by screams as it started plummeting to the ground. A sickening crunch echoed around the Atrium when the elevator smashed into the ground.
Harry moved one of Hermione's arms around his shoulders, half-carrying her. "Let's go. The fireplaces are near."
They shuffled towards the final exit where they reached out to grab some Floo powder. Before they could throw it into the fireplace, they were blasted backwards.
"Harry Potter," Voldemort said. "Avada Kedavra!"
"NO!" Hermione screamed, scrambling towards Harry. She placed Harry's head in her lap before she started sobbing.
"A nuisance no more; both him and the prophecy," Voldemort said. "Never let it be said that Lord Voldemort is not merciful, girl."
Hermione didn't hear his speech or his Apparition, too busy stroking Harry's cheek while denying that Harry had died.
Harry found himself in the empty classroom he'd been using with Hermione for their practice session. The room's windows shined with an ethereal light. A scream tore through the room, drawing Harry's attention to the little basket at the other end of the room. He started walking towards it.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you."
Harry turned towards the familiar voice. "Cedric?"
"Right in one," Cedric said, grinning at Harry's befuddled expression.
"Am I dead?"
"I don't know." Cedric shrugged. "That thing over there is a mutilated piece of Voldemort's soul. He did something unforgivable. When he dies, he'll meet Oblivion instead of – to be honest, I'm not certain what to call it. You, on the other hand, get to go back to your little lady friend when you walk out of this room."
"Nice seeing you, but I've got to go," Harry said, already moving towards the door.
"Wait!" Cedric said. "Your parents couldn't come since they've been gone for too long. I'm the ... delivery boy, I guess. From both of them: love you and love her too. From your mother: women love endearments, so start using them. From your father: listen to your mother and, really, quitting Quidditch?" Cedric scratched his chin. "From me: seriously, quitting Quidditch?"
Harry snorted at the last addition. "Thanks, Cedric. I love them too." Harry frowned when he felt something brushing up against him. He closed his eyes and could feel the magic of two people coursing through him, fully accepted by his own without question. A tear started sliding down his cheek.
"They know," Cedric said, smiling. "And don't worry about Dumbledore or Voldemort. The former made a lot of people angry; for all the preaching he does about The Next Great Adventure, he's one of the few that should fear it. The latter will meet his demise, but the prophecy is no longer in play now that his soul fragment has been removed from you."
Harry grinned. Not having anything else to discuss, he moved towards the exit. When he felt himself getting reacquainted with his body, he could hear Cedric's voice echoing from far away.
"So long, Harry ... live long and healthy ... have lots of babies ... yeah, your mother made me say that ... woman terrified the crap out of me."
Harry regained consciousness. The insistent sobbing drew his attention. A few drops fell onto his face. He opened his eyes and saw Hermione hovering over him.
"Hey there," Harry whispered. Remembering the earlier advice, he added, "sweetheart."
Hermione's sobbing stopped. She stared at him in shock. "Ha – Harry?"
His lips twitched. "Expecting someone else?"
She pulled him upright and kissed him, a needy kiss, broken only because of their exhaustion. "How?"
"I'll tell you everything, but we need to get to the castle before our plan fails."
A slightly recovered Hermione helped Harry up. She threw Floo powder into the fire. "Honeydukes!"
After being hurled through the Floo Network, they fell out at the other end. The place was dark and empty. Hermione ignored the cursing from upstairs, instead guiding Harry towards the basement. Harry opened the secret passageway. They stepped through and shut the hatch before the owner peeked into the basement.
While they walked back towards the castle, stopping every few minutes to catch their breath, Harry told her everything about the strange place. No matter how pleased Hermione was at his parents' unexpected acceptance, she was mortified at the babies-comment.
Harry changed the topic. "We need to deal with Malfoy. That little cretin started this."
"And we'll finish it, permanently," Hermione said.
Harry squeezed her gently. "You all right?"
"No, I'm not," she said to his surprise. "I thought I'd lost you. Malfoy made his decision when he helped them kidnap us, now he's going to deal with the consequences."
"We'll deal with him when we get back, then," Harry said. "So, do you like 'sweetheart' or do I need to find something else?"
She smiled at him. "Sweetheart will do, for now. I'd start calling you 'handsome', but you really don't look the part at the moment."
The walk to the other end of the tunnel lasted hours due to their constant breaks. They didn't mind, choosing to appreciate the time they spent together when the end had been so close. When they stepped through the secret passage, the sun was already rising. They looked at each other for the barest of seconds, both deciding breakfast was more important than sleep. They needed some nutrients before heading off to bed so their magic could recover from their adventure.
Hermione brushed a finger over his scar. "It's almost gone now."
"Maybe the dratted thing will disappear completely and I'll be rid of it."
Leaning against each other, they shuffled towards the nearly empty Great Hall. The few people that noticed their state grinned, which Harry and Hermione pointedly ignored. They sat down at the Gryffindor table where they slowly consumed one plate after the other. Harry looked up when the Daily Prophet arrived.
"Don't be silly," Hermione said. "They're not that fast or that good."
Harry abandoned the notion in favour of more food. Eventually, he saw Malfoy skipping into the Great Hall with his smug and superior expression. Harry nudged Hermione. When Malfoy noticed them, they were treated to the pale boy tripping and slamming into the floor amidst general laughter. The boy jumped up, eyes wide and disbelief clearly visible. He sat down at the Slytherin table, ignoring breakfast completely.
"Ready?" Harry whispered.
They stood up, no longer feeling drained or weak, instead feeling energised. They linked arms before walking out of the Great Hall. Hermione dropped a few hints about cupboards, making a few nearby students snicker.
Once outside, Harry asked, "Cupboards?"
Harry lamented not having the Marauders Map at their disposal, but he didn't argue when Hermione kissed his cheek every minute so she could risk a glance at their surroundings.
"He's following," she whispered after the fifth time.
"Let's go to the Astronomy Tower so we can see the grounds before we leave tomorrow," Harry said, slightly louder than normal.
"The grounds, hmm? So it has nothing to do with the well-known privacy of the place?" Hermione asked.
Harry grinned at her statement. They indeed needed privacy, just not for what Malfoy was now thinking. They made their way up the long-winding circular staircase while Malfoy waited at the bottom to avoid being spotted. When they stepped onto the balcony, they cast their Disillusionment Charms and waited.
Malfoy tiptoed up the stairs. Once he reached the top, he stuck his head out of the door and frowned at the empty balcony. He stepped out, wand drawn, looking around wildly to find Harry and Hermione.
'Now,' Harry thought.
"Silencio," Hermione cast.
"Incarcerous," Harry cast.
Malfoy almost toppled over the edge. His horrified eyes darted around while trying to find the source of those spells. He couldn't see anyone. His eyes widened further when he heard and recognised a voice.
"I'll keep this short, Malfoy," Harry said. "Snape used to be like you, a spiteful student. He caused my parents' deaths. Now, here we are ... you almost got Hermione and myself killed. I'm not going to give you a chance to try again. Goodbye."
Harry shoved the boy over the edge while Hermione removed both charms to prevent an investigation. Malfoy's screaming came to an abrupt halt when he hit the rooftop below.
The couple ran down the stairs and moved away from the Astronomy tower before entering a broom cupboard. In there, they kissed each other roughly while ruffling their clothing. Making sufficient noise by hitting the cupboard walls, they were not shocked when the door opened.
"Ten points from Gryffindor," McGonagall said.
"Yes, Professor," they both said.
'Thank you for the alibi,' Hermione thought.
'Odd. She didn't assign a detention.'
Hermione leaned into Harry to conceal her smile. They walked to the Gryffindor common room and instantly fell asleep on the couch where Parvati woke them the next morning.
Half of the summer had vanished before Harry had realised it. For the first time, he was enjoying the summer while still at the Dursley residence. He had no idea what Sirius had done to his relatives, but it had left a lasting impression that made them leave him alone. His genius of a godfather – something he'd never call the man to his face – had also charmed another mirror for Hermione's usage.
"Hello, handsome," Hermione said after their mirrors activated.
"Still moping about the Daily Prophet's idiocy?"
Harry glanced at the utter failure of a 'newspaper', filled with detailed commentary about the heroic battle that had taken place in the Ministry of Magic between upstanding citizens, like Lucius Malfoy, and ruthless Death Eaters, like Bellatrix Lestrange.
"No," Harry said. "I only moped for three seconds because their nonsense caught me off guard."
"After this year's foolishness, I expected nothing less," Hermione said. "Anything interesting happening over there?"
"Dumbledore will be picking me up today."
"Remus will be doing the honours here."
Harry grimaced when the doorbell rang. "My escort has arrived. Love you."
"Love you too."
Harry slid the deactivated mirror in his pocket before grabbing his trunk. After dragging it down the stairs, he left it in the hallway. He frowned at the silent house. He opened the front door, but no one was outside. He walked into the living room where he saw Dumbledore in one of the couches and his relatives in the opposite one. A dusty bottle floated over the table, five filled glasses surrounding it.
"Mr Potter, please take a seat. There are a few matters we need to discuss."
Harry ignored Dumbledore's blackened hand and took a seat. When one of the glasses floated towards him, he took it before setting it down on the coffee table. The other glasses were nudging against his relatives' heads. Dumbledore seemed to be enjoying himself.
"I never would have guessed that you enjoyed Muggle-baiting," Harry said.
The glasses vanished instantly.
"Thank you, Harry," Petunia said as spokesperson for the entire relieved Dursley family.
"I apologise," Dumbledore said. "I thought your childhood had been less than pleasant."
"It was," Harry said. "They don't like magic and took it out on me. Thank you for justifying their behaviour by assaulting them with magic while they're defenceless against it." Harry stood up. "I'll wait in the entrance hall."
Harry hoped he'd aggravated Dumbledore enough to leave. While Dumbledore would have dug up all of Harry's enrolments after the meeting concerning Hermione's failed expulsion, Harry didn't want Dumbledore to be informed about Sirius's involvement in the matter.
Dumbledore didn't look pleased when he entered the hallway. A flick of his wand and Harry's trunk had vanished to its mysterious destination. He halted, waiting for a question Harry didn't ask, before grasping Harry's shoulder.
Harry felt his insides twisting inside out. After arriving, Harry promptly fell to the ground while breathing heavily. He grinned at Dumbledore's actions, now knowing the man didn't mind hitting below the belt. At least Harry wouldn't feel the least bit guilty when the plan was finished. He followed the strangely silent Dumbledore into one of the houses. A group of burglars seemed to have passed through the place. Dumbledore poked one of the armchairs, making it revert into a person.
"Albus," the plump man said.
"Good evening, Horace," Dumbledore said. He waved his wand around the room, restoring everything. He nodded in satisfaction. "Do you mind having a drink with us?"
Slughorn look at Harry – no, at the faint remnant of Harry's scar. "Harry Potter ... I suppose I could have a drink now that you're here."
Harry held back from letting out a long sigh. He didn't have a single clue as to why he had been brought here, and being introduced to a fan wasn't his idea of spending his summer.
"Nice to meet you," Harry said, uncaring if the man noticed his lack of interest.
"What are you here for, Albus?" Slughorn asked.
"To offer you the Potions position," Dumbledore said.
"Your last teacher died in suspicious circumstances. Never liked the man, but there wasn't even an investigation," Slughorn said. "I still receive rumours, you know. Are you still employing that idiotic woman ... Umbridge?"
"She was called back to the Ministry," Dumbledore said. "Officially, due to the deaths of several prominent members. Unofficially, due to the horrible Defence grades."
Harry snorted. Seeing Slughorn's attention, Harry added, "That woman couldn't teach a Dragon how to breathe fire."
Dumbledore stood up. "Don't mind me, I'll be visiting the bathroom."
"Oh," Slughorn said, disappointed that Dumbledore wasn't leaving yet. Slughorn stood up and walked around. "I know why he brought you."
"You knew my parents?"
"Your mother, cheeky and vivacious ... and so very charming. Died too soon, just like your father."
Harry didn't see the need to reply. He remembered the feeling of his parents' magic flowing through him, along with the messages that Cedric had passed along. Slughorn didn't break the silence, also lost in memories from the past. They were both snapped out of their memories when Dumbledore stepped into the living room.
"I think it's time for us to leave, Harry," Dumbledore said.
"Yes, yes, enjoy your trip," Slughorn said.
While Harry and Dumbledore walked out of the house, Harry could hear the telltale pop of Apparition from Slughorn's departure. Dumbledore's disgruntled expression didn't faze Harry.
"I required Slughorn's assistance at Hogwarts for an incredibly important piece of information," Dumbledore said.
"Really?" Harry asked in surprise. "If I'd known that, I might have put forth an effort. For some reason, I was left alone in a room with a stranger without any clue what was expected of me." Harry didn't bother adding that he wouldn't have done it anyway.
Harry had prepared himself when Dumbledore had reached out for him this time. Harry managed to contain his reaction when they arrived at the Burrow.
"I had a falling out with the Weasleys," Harry said.
"Molly insisted. Miss Granger will be there as well."
Before Harry arrived at the entrance, he felt Hermione's magic washing over him. 'For someone that quit Divination, you seem to have a gift to foretell the future.'
'A simple 'good call, dear' will be sufficient.'
Harry could feel Hermione's smugness radiating through his mind. 'Can't do that. My girlfriend's endearment is sweetheart, not dear.'
'No one likes a nitpicker.'
Harry had been so caught in his – and Hermione's – thoughts that he had missed the initial greetings. He was shaken from them when Mrs Weasley hugged him.
"Hello, Mrs Weasley," Harry said.
"Harry, good to see you, especially after –"
Harry ducked his head in embarrasment since he'd forgotten. Hermione had overheard the Weasley siblings talking shortly after the Christmas holidays, and she'd found out that Mr Weasley had died on an Order mission. After they'd discussed it with Sirius and mourned for the cheerful man, they'd put it out of their minds since they had enough to deal with.
"My condolences," Harry said.
Mrs Weasley nodded tearfully before guiding Harry inside. Dumbledore followed them in. Harry saw Hermione and immediately walked over to hug her.
"Hello, sweetheart," he said before giving her a peck on the lips.
After Mrs Weasley shot them a watery smile, she rushed into the kitchen.
'My mirror is active. Sirius intervene any second,' Hermione thought.
"Mr Potter, Miss Granger. I'd like a word about last year's –"
Kreacher deposited a Howler onto the living room table.
'He didn't,' Harry thought.
'He did.' Hermione sounded resigned.
The letter launched itself upwards while opening itself before shouting at Dumbledore. "Dumbledore, you senile twit! Grimmauld Place is the safest location in Britain bar Hogwarts, so unless you Fidelius the Burrow, you WILL move my godson there or I'll pelt you with Howlers!" The letter switched targets, turning to a curious Mrs Weasley. "Molly, you have my permission to commandeer Grimmauld Place; the place is cleaned and has enough rooms for everyone." The letter spluttered out.
"I suppose – while it isn't as cosy, it's safer," Mrs Weasley said.
"Nonsense," Dumbledore intervened. "I'm certain he's not serious. Bill added wards to –"
'Please tell me the man did not say Sirius was not being serious,' Harry thought while resisting the urge to facepalm.
Hermione anticipated Sirius's reaction and sung, 'He should not have said that.'
Kreacher arrived with a stack of red letters. The vindictive smile on Kreacher's face clarified why the little bugger wasn't insulting anyone. He snapped his fingers. The letters flew out of his arms and floated through the entire room so they couldn't be destroyed easily.
Harry and Hermione were already running towards the kitchen. Along the way, they grabbed the shocked Mrs Weasley who stood in the doorway, forcing her into the kitchen too. Harry slammed the door shut behind them.
Hermione cringed at the increased noise-level until it suddenly muffled when Harry put his fingers in her ears. Amused, she copied his action, grinning. Mrs Weasley flicked out her wand and cast a spell on herself. She repeated the motion for Harry and Hermione, after which they removed their fingers. They could hear a whisper in the distance, but nothing else.
"Thank you, Mrs Weasley," Hermione said automatically.
Harry's lips twitched at her verbal reply, especially since no one could hear anything. Hermione picked up on his amusement and swatted his arm. Harry gave Mrs Weasley a thumbs-up sign, which she answered with a slight wave of her hand before pointing to the stove. She left the room, going up the stairs. Harry and Hermione noticed the recently heated soup on the stove. They took a bowl and served themselves.
'How long do you think this'll last?' Harry asked.
'Until Dumbledore gets the message and who knows how long that'll take.'
'Or until Sirius runs out of letters,' Harry added.
The twins entered the kitchen and, noticing their bowls, grabbed one too before silently sipping their soup. By the time Harry and Hermione finished their soup, the rest of the Weasley family had gathered in the kitchen, fully packed. Dumbledore entered the room, his clothes half-singed. Even though his mouth was moving, no one heard anything.
'You know, I think our meetings with Dumbledore would drastically improve if we asked Mrs Weasley to teach us that spell.' Harry thought.
Hermione grinned. 'An interesting observation, but I'd rather avoid the man. And so would you.' She turned to Harry. 'So, handsome, do you need that spell for some other wicked reason? Not getting tired of hearing my thoughts, are you?'
'NO,' Harry thought, half-panicking.
Hermione leaned forwards to give him a lingering kiss. 'Good reaction.'
Their hearing returned when Mrs Weasley removed the magical earplugs.
"Why did we need to pack?" Ron asked.
"We're moving to Grimmauld Place," Mrs Weasley said.
"I think it's best to move to Grimmauld Place," Dumbledore said.
"That was the idea," Mrs Weasley said, frowning at the man.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?"
Mrs Weasley shook her head. Flicking her wand, she wrote a message in the air.
Ears damaged. Visit Poppy. We'll go to HQ.
Dumbledore nodded tiredly before Apparating away.
The entire party that had gathered in the kitchen moved to the living room where they Flooed to Grimmauld Place to settle in again. Mrs Weasley made use of the additional cleaned bedrooms by putting Harry and Hermione in their own separate rooms instead of placing them with Ron and Ginny. Apparently, Harry and Hermione's falling out with her children didn't prevent her from mothering them. After a quick inquiry from Hermione, Mrs Weasley informed them that the Burrow had too much active magic on the house to be placed under the Fidelius.
Harry and Hermione started to get more and more anxious to leave the glum atmosphere of Grimmauld Place behind. Nothing of importance had happened, especially since they no longer cared about the useless Order meetings. While Mrs Weasley tried to hide her grief, the few sappy looks they received indicated she wasn't completely over her husband's death yet. As the couple snuggled on the couch, Mrs Weasley entered the room.
"Your O.W.L. results have arrived."
They grinned, accepting the letters and opening them.
"Ten Outstandings," Hermione whispered while staring at her parchment.
"Well done, sweetheart," Harry said before looking at his own parchment. "Failed Divination and History; no big loss. One Acceptable, two Exceeds Expectations, and four Outstandings." He looked at Hermione. "Guess you rubbed off on me."
"Congratulations, you two," Mrs Weasley said before she noticed something peculiar. "That's strange. Why did they add another parchment to your results?"
'Should we tell her?' Harry asked.
Hermione blushed. 'I was thinking of telling her anyway. If we up and vanish ... it might destroy the bit of happiness she has left. You've seen how she looks at us.'
'You're right,' Harry thought. 'She doesn't deserve that. I hope she doesn't tell Dumbledore.'
Hermione glanced at the second parchment. Nodding, she flicked out her wand. "Muffliato!"
"Hermione!" Mrs Weasley said, shocked. "You could get expelled from Hogwarts!"
"Mrs Weasley," Harry said, getting her attention. "Hermione and I were told by Sirius that a single passing grade in any N.E.W.T. automatically registers as passing school ... and obtaining wand-rights."
Hermione summarised her piece of paper. "Exceeds Expectations in Defence, Acceptable in Charms and Transfiguration." She swiped Harry's results. "The same for the first two, Poor in Transfiguration."
'We did it,' Harry thought, sharing a smile with Hermione.
"You – You're not going to fight him, are you?" Mrs Weasley asked.
"The opposite, actually," Hermione said to Mrs Weasley's confusion.
"We're going after Sirius," Harry said. "We're leaving the country."
Before they could react, Mrs Weasley had both of them struggling in one of her famous hugs. "Thank Merlin."
"You're not going to stop us?" Harry asked. He needed to know how quickly they had to make their escape.
"For leaving a war?" Mrs Weasley asked. "I wished my own children were this smart. Children don't belong in wars; not now, not ever."
Harry and Hermione sagged in relief.
"Do you know when you'll leave? And could you let me know when you arrive someplace safe? Do you need any help?"
Harry raised a hand to stop her. "Sirius took care of everything ... just act normal and don't tell anyone. For some reason, Dumbledore is interested in me so I doubt he'll be this accepting."
"Oh," Hermione said, taking out a mirror and handing it to Mrs Weasley. "I won't be needing that anymore. Instant communication. Call out for Harry Potter or Sirius Black after tapping the mirror with your wand. Should yours vibrate, then we're trying to reach you and you'll need to tap your wand to activate it."
"Thank you," Mrs Weasley said, smiling widely. "I'll leave you two to your escape. Take care of each other and ... tell Sirius I was wrong about him. He's a great godfather."
"I don't know," Harry said uncertainly. "His ego might explode."
"We'll tell him," Hermione said, rolling her eyes. She didn't bother pointing out that Mrs Weasley could tell him herself through the mirror since Sirius wouldn't hesitate to exploit that compliment till the last drop.
Mrs Weasley left the room more cheerful than she'd been in months.
Kreacher deposited two wrapped items on the couch.
The smallest, resembling the shape of a letter, had Hermione's name on it. Harry handed it to her before taking the other package. He unwrapped it.
"My Firebolt," Harry said. He shifted his attention to Hermione. "What does it say?"
Hermione slid a parchment and two train-tickets out of the letter.
"Dearest Miss Granger," Hermione said as she read, "You'll figure it out. Sincerely Yours, Sirius."
"Well – that was helpful," Harry said.
Hermione took a closer look at the tickets. "Harry, we need to get to Brussels to use these tickets." She glanced at Harry's broom and blew out a breath. Her eyes fell on the useless piece of parchment again. Sirius wouldn't have included that unless it served a purpose. She tapped it with her wand. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
The parchment shifted into the most colourful ticket she'd ever seen.
THE HARRY POTTER EXPRESS
One non-refundable ticket to ride Harry Potter's broom.
Sit astraddle and push perky breasts against handsome flyer.
Use Point-Me Spell to travel to Brussels.
Enjoy the ride of a lifetime!
Hermione gritted her teeth. "Forget neutering him. I'm killing him."
Harry read the information over her shoulder. "I'll hold him down."
Several years had come and gone since Harry and Hermione's boring escape. They enjoyed their newfound freedom, especially after Hermione had informed her parents of everything and they had approved of her actions ... after a thorough scolding for lying to them. Sirius was equally free and alive, a fact the couple sometimes regretted. They talked to Mrs Weasley at least once a month, happily keeping her informed about their lives.
Hermione had been talking to her a moment ago. She skipped towards Harry, ignoring Sirius who sat next to him, with a gigantic smile. "You'll never guess who killed Voldemort."
Harry shot out of his seat. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"U-huh. She got annoyed after her parents fought the idiot off three times in a row. She nailed him in the back with an ancient Indian spell that obliterated his soul."
Harry's eye twitched. One of Dumbledore's schemes to get him to return to Britain had been the leaking of some stupid prophecy. "If her birthday is in July, I'm going back to Britain solely to strangle Dumbledore."
"Dumbledore died a year ago," Sirius said. When he saw their shocked reaction, he continued, "Oh ... right. Molly told me to tell you. Guess I forgot. His arm had been cursed by something nasty, nothing important."
Hermione looked ready to pummel Sirius.
"Besides," Sirius continued, "why would you waste your time going back to Britain when you can spend it more creatively? For example, those sounds I heard from your room last night." Sirius pointedly ignored Hermione's rising ire. "While I'm a heavy supporter of not always using Silencing Spells so I can refresh my dazzling imagination, there are some things I'd rather never find out. You've got a wand. Use it. No, Hermione ... I'm not talking about Harry's."
"Why haven't we killed him yet?" Hermione lamented.
"He's housebroken and eats the scraps?"